Lakes Sinclair and Oconee all have populations of striped, white and hybrid bass and each of these fish species looks and acts different. I have received many questions over the years from anglers asking help in identifying their catch especially when distinguishing between these three species of fish. Since the daily limit for the three species is a total of 15 in any combination of all three species, some anglers do not worry about trying to figure out which species they have caught.

However, many anglers do want to identify the specific species, so this article is a primer on these three similar but different fish species. We will start with the striped bass (Morone saxatilis). Some anglers in the northeast refer to the striped bass as a rockfish. I started fishing for striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay more than 40 years ago and the striped bass up there were called rockfish.

The striped bass is native to the Atlantic coastline of North America and can be found from Maine to Louisiana. They can be just as much at home in a freshwater reservoir as they are in the ocean and do migrate between fresh and saltwater. The ability to survive in freshwater has lead to their being stocked in freshwater reservoirs across the America.

The striped bass migrate up freshwater reservoirs from the ocean each year to spawn. They have been stocked off and on in lakes Sinclair and Oconee for several years and are presently being heavily stocked in both reservoirs. They are unable to spawn in landlocked reservoirs but still go through an attempt to spawn each spring.

Native populations of striped bass in certain rivers have been hurt in recent years by the stocking of hybrid bass and that has caused fisheries biologist in Georgia to reduce or eliminate hybrid stocking from reservoirs that feed into the Altamaha River where the striped bass spawn. Lake Sinclair now receives no stockings of hybrid bass but Lake Oconee still receives hybrid bass fingerlings each spring.

The striped bass can live over thirty years and the world record is 125 pounds. The Lake Oconee record striped bass weighed 29 pounds and 14.9 ounces and was caught in 1996. The Lake Sinclair record striped bass weighed 42 pounds and was caught prior to the construction of the Wallace Dam. Striped bass will never attain that size again in Lake Sinclair due to the poor water quality created by the dam and the Georgia Power pumpback operation.

The white bass (Morone chrysops) was originally native to the rivers that flowed into the Mississippi River but now they have been introduced into many rivers and lakes across the country. Lake Oconee still has a decent population of white bass but the white bass fishery in Lake Sinclair has also suffered from the construction of the Wallace Dam.

White bass are still caught in Lake Sinclair each spring when they make their way up Cedar Creek, Murder Creek and Little River to spawn. The white bass can successfully spawn in both lakes and gauging from the numbers and good sizes of white bass I have caught in Lake Sinclair this spring maybe they are making a decent comeback in Sinclair.

The world record white bass weighed 6 pounds and 13 ounces. The Lake Sinclair record white bass weighed 2 pounds and 7 ounces and the Lake Oconee record white bass record stands at 3 pounds and 6 ounces.

The third specie that I want to mention is the hybrid bass, which is produced by fertilizing eggs from the white bass with sperm from the striped bass. They have been produced since the early ‘80s and have been stocked heavily across the United States. The Lake Oconee record hybrid bass weighed 14 pounds and 9 ounces and the Lake Sinclair record is 10 pounds and 7 ounces.

Heavy stockings of hybrid bass in Lakes Oconee have been underway for several years and that has created a good population in the lake and excellent fishing for anglers. From late spring until fall, anglers can make good catches of surface feeding hybrid bass between the Highway 44 bridge and the Wallace Dam. For the last few years a 50/50 rate of hybrid bass and striped bass has been stocked in Lake Oconee.

The hybrid bass fishery never has reached the same potential for good angling in Lake Sinclair. For some reason the schooling activity and surface feeding activity on Lake Sinclair has never been as good as it is in upstream Lake Oconee. Hybrid bass have not been stocked in Lake Sinclair since 2006 when they were stocked at a very low rate. Lake Sinclair anglers likely will see few hybrid bass in their creels this year. Some hybrid bass will escape through the Wallace Dam but not enough to create a fishery in Lake Sinclair.

The hybrid bass is unable to spawn so once they are no longer stocked they will disappear from the fishery. They only live about 5 years so few now remain in Lake Sinclair. The few that do remain are likely on the large size from the 2006 stocking.

Unfortunately, these three species are not pursued by many anglers in either lake. Anglers will occasionally catch one while fishing for largemouth bass or trolling for crappie but few anglers specifically target these fish. The exception is in Lake Oconee where the hybrid bass is easily caught when they surface feed in large schools from May until fall.

A future article will look at where these fish reside in the lakes and the techniques that can be utilized to catch hybrid and striped bass. Good fishing and see you next week.

Outdoor columnist Bobby Peoples can be reached via e-mail at brpeoples@windstream.net.

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